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Shell Shocked: Please stay home, Mr. Brantley

By Staff | Apr 25, 2018

Art Stevens

Let’s keep Ben Brantley, the theater critic of The New York Times away from Sanibel. We don’t need his scathing reviews of our sublime theatrical entertainment in Sanibel.

He is one tough critic. He can destroy a play or musical with one magic wave of his critic’s wand. In Sanibel, our reviewers are more than fair. They applaud effort, originality, superior performances and stage craft. Critic Brantley has standards that can only be matched by the efforts of William Shakespeare – and only on his best days.

Going to the theater in Sanibel is pure joy. Where else can you watch a show in your shorts? Try doing that on Broadway. Aside from theater fashion, the theatrical risks in Sanibel and Broadway are quite different. Although we still require a high degree of professionalism in our Sanibel productions, millions of dollars aren’t poured into new plays and musicals here as they are on Broadway in a make-or-break effort to establish long-running smash hits.

Our theater reviewers always find positive things to say about Sanibel efforts. Mr. Brantley, on the other hand, can destroy a show with a few of his dismissive sentences.

Here are some typical review passages coined by Mr. Brantley, as compared to those of a Sanibel theater reviewer.

Brantley: Delivering the anguished lines of the self-destructive egotist that the lead character became, he perversely tends to fade into the gray. This may be a mercy, given the lines he has to say. It’s hard not to sympathize with the character who tells him, “I miss the days when you didn’t speak.”

But the set pre-empts the play in a way, anticipating and underscoring the obvious. The script, which isn’t all that subtle to begin with, isn’t allowed to do its own talking, and we aren’t allowed to infer parallels by ourselves. It becomes a serious challenge for the members of the ensemble to create any sense of organic character development.

Sanibel Review: His is truly an incredible play that cuts to the quick. It is a roller-coaster ride of emotions sparked by deep thought, intelligent humor, literary mind games and metaphysical wit. And it achieves what very few plays manage to do – makes you feel and makes you think. Thank you for having the boldness to bring us this kind of world-class theater in a first-rate production with an astonishing cast of fine actors. Bravo!

The adjectives used by Ben Brantley to describe a new play or musical tend to be along the lines of messy, misfire, amateurish, woeful and misbegotten. From Sanibel come compliments like: enthralling, exuberant, original, on the money, uplifting, inspiring and enchanting.

Does Mr. Brantley pan shows just to be mean? I don’t think so. He’s of the school that if you are to succeed on Broadway, your standards need to be very high. Is he always right? Hardly. There have been a number of productions that rated low on his critic’s scale but have been commercial successes anyway. Ultimately, theater-goers determine what they like, despite the reviews.

But in Sanibel, we tend to bend over backwards to give every performer, playwright, director and choreographer the benefit of any doubts. We embrace theater and have open minds. Mr. Brantley would most likely pan some of our productions if he were our resident critic – but he’s not. What he seeks is theater with Olympian proportions. In Sanibel, we tend to be more down to earth.

We are happy to have several live theaters in Sanibel and showcase the efforts of aspiring talent. While our expectations are high, they are certainly not unreasonable.